Our third day in Bangladesh began with a short domestic flight from Dhaka to Chittagong, located roughly two hundred and fifty kilometres south-east of the capital. There were quite a few different airlines offering service on the route, albeit with distinctly variable online reviews. After some consideration we settled on Novoair, a well-regarded local carrier operating a fleet of Embraer regional jets.
The service on the all-economy flight was the best I've experienced outside of a business class cabin, which I'd never have expected in a third world country. A member of cabin crew offered me a complimentary newspaper on boarding, though I had to turn it down when it became apparent that they were all in Bengali. Five minutes later, just before the door was closed, the same crew member came back to my seat with an English language edition that someone had apparently gone to fetch. This was quite a surprise, and things got better from there; shortly after departure a complimentary meal was provided, something I'd never have expected in a million years on a thirty minute flight. There were no PA announcements about hand baggage, lottery tickets, charity foundations, duty free, completely full aircraft, garbage collection, or any of the other embuggerances that are the norm when travelling in Europe these days; just a polite and attentive crew that did their best to ensure passenger comfort. The comparison to the two local airlines in Ireland could not have been more stark.
Our first park was originally intended to be Chittagong Shishu Park, which we had been told would be open at 10:00. However, it was only after paying admission (BDT 50, ~€0.55) that we learned that its rides would not be opening until the afternoon, a somewhat bizarre situation that our driver explained to us with the words "Welcome to Bangladesh" delivered with a broad grin. We took advantage of the opportunity to capture a set of daytime photos before moving on to our next stop, reasoning that it'd be fairly easy to drop in a second visit on the way back to the airport.
15th March 2016
Mini Bangladesh is part of the Shaheed Zia Smiriti Complex, a tourist attraction featuring a revolving restaurant, an observation tower, a small selection of amusement rides, and scale models of a number of famous buildings from around the country, including the National Parliament House, Curzon Hall, Lalbagh Fort, and Ahsan Manzil. The facility is accessed through a bright pink archway protected by armed guards, reflecting the fact that the city of Chittagong is located close to an area that has been subject to security concerns for the last few years. Admission to the grounds costs BDT 100 (~€1.12), and though we were not the only visitors the place was very quiet and calm, a sharp contrast to the beeping traffic still audible in the distance.
We found the Wacky Worm (#2202) to the left of the main entrance at the base of the observation tower, and a ticket booth was available right in front of it. We were charged BDT 40 (~€0.45) per person, and for that we got two entirely typical laps of a ride that marked my 176th different Big Apple (yes, yes, I know). With the credit cleared we went for a slow walk around the rest of the grounds, noting a small wheel, dodgems, swings, and a train ride.
There was plenty of time available, and given that we decided to pay the BDT 70 (€0.80) to go up the tower. The lift let us out at the restaurant level, where we found quite a few other guests milling around that floor despite the fact that nobody appeared to be buying food. We snapped a few photos before heading up the stairs to an outdoor deck where we could see for some distance in all directions. In one direction we could see some fairly grim looking tower blocks complete with laundry hanging from windows, while in another we could see what was presumably the wealthy part of town, its buildings painted in gloriously bright colours. At ground level opposite the park stood the local bus station, with at least two hundred vehicles that looked like they'd been decorated by graffiti artists.
Foy's Lake Amusement World
15th March 2016
The Concord Group is one of the largest real estate, engineering, and construction conglomerates in Bangladesh, with well over a thousand projects in their forty-three year history. One of the sub-companies operates a number of amusement parks, including Fantasy Kingdom, Heritage Park, and Foy's Lake Amusement Park. In the run up to our trip I'd only had time for limited research, and thus it was quite a surprise to discover a beautifully themed facility decorated in bright colours whose presentation was of international standard. Our admission ticket included a free glass of Pepsi or a tub of ice cream, but not rides, which had to be paid for individually. A combo ticket was available, but our driver told us that it didn't include access to the coaster, making it a poor choice for enthusiasts.
The facility is located in a slightly suspect area, and perhaps because of that an enormous amount of effort goes into maintaining a family friendly atmosphere within the grounds. There are quite a few signs forbidding any violence, noise, or eve-teasing, a euphemism used throughout South Asia to refer to harassment or molestation of women by men. The fact that such a sign is even necessary is a sad reflection on local attitudes to the fairer sex, though to be fair there are worse places.
The park has a large number of off-the-shelf rides, including bumper cars, a carousel, a paratrooper, and a wheel. Our only real interest was another Big Apple of unspecified provenance branded as Family Roller Coaster (#2203). Tickets were BDT 80 (~€0.90), and for that we were given two laps of a relatively lively ride that even featured a small amount of airtime.
We continued working our way around the park when without warning we were spotted by a large group of schoolchildren. The sight of one caucasian face was unusual, but three in the same place granted us instant celebrity status. Over the course of twenty minutes we had our photos taken with two full classes of teenagers (one set of boys, one set of girls, and even a teacher) as well as several families who didn't want to miss out on the fun. Megan was the center of attention, and probably appeared in at least fifty Facebook posts that evening.
Karnaphuly Shishu Park
15th March 2016
The third park of the day had an identity crisis; though the sign over the entrance was labelled Dream Land our admission ticket was for Karnaphuly Shishu Park, and I'm going to run with the latter for my trip report because there are twenty-five parks around the world with the words "dream" and "land" in their name, not least one in Bangladesh, and it gets confusing to separate them all!
We paid BDT 40 (~€0.45) for admission and wandered into a park that looked like it had seen better days. The once bright colours had faded in many areas, and parts of the grounds were overgrown. The Lake View Restaurant looked slightly forlorn next to a mostly dry muddy pit that had had a coating of fallen leaves, garbage, and deceased swan boats. Despite the dilapidation, however, most of the rides looked to be in operational condition, even if their general appearance and surrounding environment didn't exactly inspire confidence. There were only a handful of other guests today, and they were outnumbered two to one by armed guards.
The misspelled Roler Coaster (#2204) was built by a local company in the early nineties, and features a layout broadly equivalent to a Big Apple, albeit on a somewhat larger scale and without the undulations one typically sees on the upper level. The track is elevated several feet above ground, presumably to avoid damage during rainy season, and the resulting elongated supports give the ride a somewhat gangly appearance. The train definitely didn't want to crest the lift hill today, with a series of fairly nasty lurches as each car disengaged from the chain, but from that point onwards the ride quality actually wasn't bad. Our single lap cost us BDT 25 (~€0.28).
We were given what was almost certainly the foreigner price (BDT 100, €~1.11) for the Ferris Wheel, a sixteen car model with metal cages protected by wire netting on one side. Though the ride looked fairly frightening the wheel rotated smoothly and the view from overhead was well worth the effort.
Chittagong Shishu Park
15th March 2016
We were not able to reuse our existing admission tickets to re-enter Chittagong Shishu Park, though another BDT 50 (~€0.55) was relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. The tickets included a tear-off BDT 30 coupon that was theoretically exchangeable against rides, but it was very unclear what these could actually be used against. We were told that the coaster wasn't eligible, and both of the flat rides we tried to use them on also seemed to have an additional charge. There was a definite sense that the staff were trying to swindle us in any way that they could, and with that in mind we decided to get the credit and move on.
We ended up having to pay BDT 90 (~€1) for the Roller Coaster (#2205), a pleasant little ride with a tyre drive lift and a single descending helix that delivered moderate laterals. Our money covered four laps, shared with several locals who'd presumably paid a small fraction of what we had.